Elections Manifestos and My Friend on 104th Floor

Many of you may know about my Friend who lives on 104th floor in Mumbai. For those who don’t,  he is one of the richest person today. He is the most powerful “mover and shaker” of the world of politics,  business and investments. My Friend however prefers to operate in a background. He could achieve this simply because he owns all the major media houses across the world.

My Friend invites me often for a breakfast and occasionally with my Professor Friend. On Monday, his secretary called me and invited for a breakfast on Tuesday morning. “Sorry for this short notice Dr Modak, but Boss wants you to join him for an important meeting. And please don’t forget to bring along Professor.  His presence is very important” She said in a husky voice.

We reached my Friends place at sharp 8 am as requested. In the lounge, we saw two people waiting. One of them looked like Mr. Narendra Modi (NaMo) and other like Mr. Rahul Gandhi (RaGa). “How can these to heads of the Parties  be here during the election time?” I said to Professor “ Both of them must be busy whirling around the country, giving speeches and making promises”.

“Husssh Dr Modak, you don’t know what is real. Technology of humanoid robots is already in place. May be the NaMo and RaGa you see here are real and those who are campaigning are the clones in the interest of security. Besides, speeches delivered by the clones can be consistent and programmed real time to add local flavor and accommodate changing circumstances”.

I thought for a while. I kept shut.

Soon we were ushered to the breakfast room where my Friend was waiting. His secretary requested NaMo and RaGa look alike to wait.

“Dr Modak, you know that elections in India are set in another week. Both BJP and Congress are facing a major crunch of money. BJP has overspent and wants to spend more while funds with the Congress are getting seized and frozen by the Income Tax Officers and Enforcement Directorate” My Friend said.

“Chiefs of these two parties called me yesterday for help and requested 5 billion dollars in cash in the next two days. I told them that 5 billion dollars is not a big money to me, and my accountant can handle the payment in the next 24 hours. But then I realized that I should check their manifestos before approving the funds. I don’t want my reputational risk at stake” I thought my Friend was right.

He continued

“You very well know that Mr. Trump is a good friend of mine. He told me to check whether the manifestos of the Parties address environment and to what extent the agenda in the manifestos are green. Unfortunately, my phone line with Mr. Trump wasn’t clear and so I could not understand whether Trump was recommending the Party with a greener manifesto or otherwise! You know sometimes mainstreaming environment in policies can badly affect the economic development”

We were a bit confused.  My Friend continued

“ On the other hand, someone told me that talking about environment in the manifesto is a good idea, its also contemporary and fashionable. There is nothing much to worry as one does not have to actually implement promises made but I am unable to take a decision due to these diverse opinions. I therefore called you and Professor on a short notice for help”

We decided that we will invite NaMo and RaGa alike to the breakfast room one by one and listen to the green agenda of their manifestos. So, RaGa was invited first he being younger. An Italian coffee was served with Focaccia Bread topped with Methi (not from Amethi).

RaGa started his pitch.

He said  that the Congress manifesto recognizes air pollution as public health emergency.

All of us looked outside to see the massive blanket of smog across Mumbai. Given this grim situation,  RaGa’s opening statement made an impact.

RaGa said that the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) will be strengthened targeting all major sources of air emissions to mitigate and reduce emissions to acceptable levels. Section 3, point 5 of the Congress manifesto, has promised to formulate a policy on clean energy in power plants that use fossil fuels

We were impressed.

RaGa continued.

“Congress will revisit setting up of the National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA)—a professional agency to conduct rigorous and time-bound environmental appraisals and recommend environmental clearances, where appropriate, in a time-bound and transparent manner”.

[NEAMA was mooted way back in 2010 during congress minister Jairam Ramesh’s tenure as environment minister and was said to have been inspired by the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Knowing that Mr. Trump wasn’t happy with the EPA experience and was in fact shutting down the EPA, I wondered whether NEAMA in India will be a good idea]

RaGa said that his Party will put water conservation at the heart of the programmes for agriculture, rural and urban development. “This will be done by focusing all current programmes on augmenting water through decentralized systems, conserving water through all means and promoting recycling and reuse of water in all sectors. Water is a public right, but also a public responsibility. We believe that while pricing of water must ensure that users internalize ethics of conservation, it is also imperative that it be sustainable and affordable. We will promote these principles in all our programmes for water and waste management,” He read out a paragraph from the manifesto. This sounded like a keynote address in an international water conference

RaGa picked up few almonds from the silver bowl placed on the breakfast table and continued. He said that the Congress party has promised a special purpose vehicle for transparent, equitable and judicious development and allocation of natural resources in the country. “We will ensure that an independent regulator monitors the process of natural resource allocation in a manner that best serves the nation’s interest. The Congress promises to protect the coastal zones of the country. Recent steps that diluted the coastal zone regulations will be reversed. The coasts will be preserved without affecting the livelihood opportunities of fishing communities,” RaGa said.

I saw RaGa’s face was glowing like Lord Vishnu who looks after the protection of Earth.

My Friend did not understand the idea of the independent regulator and how could the allocation of natural resources be decided.

He simply asked “Mr. RaGa, your idea is very laudable and impressive. But let me ask you a simple question, I am investing in a large industrial complex next to a port in the Konkan belt of Maharashtra. Will your Party allocate adequate natural resources for my project?”

“Of course, Sir, you will get whatever you will ask. We make exceptions to the rule when needed” RaGa responded immediately unlike he generally takes some time to think.

My Friend was satisfied. He took a large gulp of the pomegranate juice.

RaGa continued.

One major step that the party has promised to take towards environmental protection is to launch a Green National Accounts. The manifesto will have a scheme that would ensure that the cost of the environmental degradation. It also promises to develop indicators on the state of natural resources.

[I was reminded of the two blogs I wrote in the past viz. India’s True GDP and Game of Indicators . May be consultant to the Congress Party read these blogs]

“Although we missed the target of providing one unit electricity to every household by 2012 under RGGVY, we are once again making this commitment and promise to accelerate implementation of flagship programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission which has now entered its second phase, and National Mission of Energy Efficiency. We will also launch of the much-awaited National Wind Energy Mission. The manifesto also promises to provide access to clean cooking fuel to people across the country to decrease their dependence on biomass-based fuel.  All these initiatives will help reduce Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combat climate change”

These commitments sounded music to us.

RaGa got up as he saw my Friend looking into his Rolex watch. He summed up saying (this time almost sounding like a well-trained parrot) “ The Congress manifesto promises to give “highest priority” to environmental protection. The Party is “committed to sustainable development in its true spirit”.

He left.

My Friend’s secretary then ushered NaMo to the breakfast room. NaMo was wearing a smart Jacket matching to the color of the wall. How did NaMo know the color? I appreciated NaMo’s style of using India’s Intelligence Bureau to the fullest extent.

NaMo started his pitch highlighting that he will take up the controversial river-interlinking project on priority. BJP Manifest also proposed to launch a people’s participation programme for cleaning rivers like the Ganga under a countrywide “clean river programme”.

“The National Ganga River Basin Authority has already been a success at least in spirit. We will use similar models of creating empowered, well-funded agencies to clean other major rivers in the country. There will be a new water ministry” NaMO sounded all bullish.

Professor Whatsapped me “Dr Modak, was NGRBA really successful that it could be considered as a “model”? River cleaning must be looked at the “basin level” requiring restoration as eco-system and not just limited to cleaning of the dirty drains” I sent him a smiley in response

NaMo continued

The manifesto also promises a national mission on irrigation for providing water to every field and also setting up of drinking water supply grid in water-scarce areas and also provide piped water to all households.

The lack of access to clean drinking water is an Indian reality, with several pockets of the country lacking proper drinking water facilities. With the aim to address this issue, we will take up the Sujal Program and will also implement the Swachhata se Sampannata program, that will ensure the 100% disposal of liquid waste water and reuse of waste water.

All this sounded rather ambitious to us.

NaMo continued

BJP manifesto will turn the  National Clean Air Plan into a Mission, focusing on 102 most polluted cities in the country. This will lead to reduction of overall air pollution in all the mission cities by at least 35 per cent in the coming five years.

[We wondered how did BJP come up with this number of 35%. It looked rather meagre if compared to the 200% (and even more) exceedance of the pollution that exists today]

NaMo picked up a plate of Dhokala and sipped some Masala Chai

He asked, “Have you heard about Green Bonus?”

Obviously, we hadn’t  and so we were jinxed by his question. This is typical NaMo habit I thought.

“We will introduce ‘Green Bonus’ that has been a long-pending demand. There will be special help to Himalayan States in the form of ‘Green Bonus’ that will finance forest conservation”

We avoided asking him the operational or implementation details to avoid confrontation.

NaMo continued but later part of his pitch wasn’t interesting as it overlapped with what RaGa had earlier said. He tom-tommed figures on increase in the forest covers that could be disputed and gave statistics on fair and speedy environmental clearance for improving ease of business.

If we had decided to believe in what he said, then the BJP manifesto looked very promising as compared to Congress on the green counts.

Professor whispered, “I think the consultants the Parties used were perhaps common!”. I kept shut.

When NaMo left, it was already 1030.

I asked my Friend about his decision.

“Well Dr Modak and Professor, I think I will give equal amounts to both Parties as I see overlaps and a similar rhetoric. Clearly there is going to be a stiff competition in this election and so funding only one Party will be a risk proposition to me. Extent of greening will not count and is no reputational risk to me as I see no real substance and commitment in either of the manifestos”

He then paused and said in closing

“The big assumption we make is that we all are environmentally literate, sensitive and are interested to demand action and justice for the protection of environment. While a large number of voting population is affected by the state of environment today, the risks of its neglect on quality of life, safety, resource security and the livelihoods are not fully understood. So very few care.

Manifestos of the either Parties – whether painted green or otherwise – wont perhaps make a difference as they will remain only as a smart word play!”

I thought that it was a great summing up

No wonder why my Friend was the richest person in the world.

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